WILLISTON, N.D. – A proposal to keep some crew camps open here for temporary oilfield workers failed 3-2 Tuesday night, but at least one camp operator said the issue isn't over.
About 200 people attended the Williston City Commission meeting Tuesday, with several oil company representatives advocating for a compromise to keep some worker housing open for rotational workers.
But investors in Williston hotels and apartment buildings, warning of possible foreclosures, asked commissioners to keep the July 1 sunset date they approved in November.
"Why are we killing the permanent investors so the man camps can continue to go?" said Tom Rolfstad, Williston's retired economic development director who was asked to speak by private investors. "We can let the temporary stuff go to some other town or some other county."
Commissioner Deanette Piesik introduced the compromise aimed at phasing out temporary worker housing, which would have allowed some Williston crew camps to stay open through Dec. 1, 2019.
The proposal, endorsed by an alliance of several oil companies, would have reduced the number of crew camp beds in Williston and the 1-mile extraterritorial area by about 50 percent by 2017. The proposal also doubled the fees charged to those facilities.
"Our oil and gas industry is a main employer of our region," Piesik said. "It's an industry that is hurting. Is this the right time for us to impose more hardships on them?"
Commissioners listened to two hours of public comment Tuesday, with most opponents speaking on behalf of hotel or apartment buildings.
A survey in late 2015 showed that Williston apartment buildings were about 68 percent full and rents have dropped by more than 40 percent, according to memo by city staff.
Developers who wrote to city commissioners opposing crew camps said some new apartment buildings have occupancy rates as low as 30 percent.
"The buildings are emptying out and the rates have plummeted. We are all on the verge of bankruptcy," Kent Roers, owner of Roers Investments in Long Lake, Minn., wrote to commissioners.
Richard Rowell, general manager for the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, said hotel rates have decreased significantly and hotels want to accommodate the oil industry.
The 25 hotels in Williston had an average occupancy of 27 percent in January with an average daily rate of $100.51, according to the Williston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Rowell said investors committed to hotels and other permanent housing did so with the understanding that crew camps were temporary.
Oil company representatives said many of their employees do live in permanent housing, but they need some temporary housing to accommodate workers who work rotating schedules and can't commit to apartment leases.
Ed Eberhard, a vice president for Weatherford, said the company agrees with the city's position that temporary housing should go away at some point, but is seeking a longer timeframe to phase it out.
Piesik and Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl supported the compromise, but Mayor Howard Klug and Commissioners Chris Brostuen and Tate Cymbaluk voted against it, the same split as the November meeting.
Travis Kelley, regional vice president for Target Logistics, the largest worker housing provider in North Dakota, said he was disappointed with the vote. Kelley referenced the November meeting when Mayor Klug indicated a desire to find a compromise.
"This is not the end," Kelley said. "We will pursue this further."
Klug said after the meeting he meant that he was open to finding a compromise on the September deadline of requiring crew camps to be removed.
"And that may still happen," Klug said.